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Conservancy of Southwest Florida warns of threat to panthers from Collier County development

Collier County Planning Commission meets Thursday morning regarding developments on prime habitat for endangered species

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Mar 31, 2021

In Collier County, conservationists are in a race against time and developers.

A new development poses a critical threat to the few endangered Florida panthers left in the wild, according to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

There are only so many panthers with a limited amount of space. There are an estimated 200 or so Florida panthers left in the wild and they are one of the most critically endangered species in the United States. So far this year, 10 have been documented as being killed in Florida, with at least seven due to vehicle crashes – including four in Lee County and three in Collier County.

Their latest threat are two 1,000 acre projects in Collier County proposed by Collier Enterprises and known as Longwater and Bellmar.

Most of the panthers are in the Everglades region, including Collier County as well as Lee County, Glades County and Henry County.

Developers, with a limited amount of space to build in Collier County due to environmental regulations, are seeking to push into 1,000 acres of land that the Conservancy of Southwest Florida says is prime panther habitat which is meant to be protected.

Despite these protections, Collier County planning staff have recommended approval for a sprawling development the conservation group says will endanger the panthers.

The organization has issued an action alert for Thursday morning when the Collier County Planning Commission will meet at 9 a.m. in the Board of County Commissioner’s Meeting Room, located on the Third Floor of the Administration Building at the Collier County Government Center, 3299 Tamiami Trail East, Naples.

In 2019, the commission rejected a development known as Rivergrass Village that the Conservancy of Southwest Florida opposed in which 70% of the property was in prime panther habitat. Despite the commission’s rejected, the Collier County Board of County Commissioners approved the project anyway. The organization has sued the county over its approvals for Rivergrass Village.

In its action alert issued this week, the organization stated “dramatically increased traffic, taxpayer-subsidized development, crowded beaches, and loss of essential Florida Panther habitat are all impacts we will see if Collier County permits two more “villages” in eastern Collier County this week.”

In a statement published by organization, they warned that “important farmlands and essential habitat of the endangered Florida panther will be replaced with large, fiscally irresponsible developments that will create severe traffic congestion issues for Collier County. The planning commission has completed public comment for Longwater. However, everyone still has an opportunity to voice their concerns over Bellmar.”

The organization has called the proposed development illegal, for violating Collier County’s Growth Management Plan and the Rural Lands Stewardship Area’s (RLSA) rules and requirements.

Representatives of Collier Enterprises could not be immediately reached.

A message left with Collier County Planning Commission Chair Edwin Fryer was not returned at the time of publication.